Story of the First-Ever MMA Bout on U.S. Television

Story of the First-Ever MMA Bout on U.S. Television

by Scuffle Staff on Nov 01, 2021

This is the story of the first-ever sanctioned MMA bout that was featured on television in the United States of America. In August 1963, columnist Jim Beck wrote an article called “The Judo Bums”. 

The column went on to disparage Judo and praise Boxing; as Jim Beck put it, “Judo … is a complete fraud … Every judo man I’ve ever met was a braggart and a showoff … Any boxer can beat a judo man.” 

But as you can see by the following sentence it is quite possible that Mr Beck had entirely confused Judokas with Karatekas as what he describes seems far more in line with common Karate practices at the time than Judo. 

Judo bums, hear me one and all! It is one thing to fracture pine boards, bricks and assorted inanimate objects, but quite another to climb into a ring with a trained and less cooperative target. My money is ready. Where are the takers?” 

Mr Beck set the challenge for any takers, and Gene Lebell would accept the offer after being told of the challenge by Ed Parker who taught many notable martial arts practitioners including Benny Urquidez, Dan Inosanto, Chuck Norris and he was even the one who taught Karate to Elvis Presley.

After explaining that to Gene that he would be perfect for the challenge as one of the roughest and toughest martial artists around, the offer became to good to refuse after then telling Gene of the $1000 prize money for the winner.

So “Judo” Gene LeBell, who is now a legend of the sport, was pitted against accomplished boxer Milo Savage in this fixture.

Initially, the bout was scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, but after being unable to have it sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission the show was moved to Utah. 

Anticipation for the bout was high, with the common belief at the time being that Boxing was a far superior martial art and that a Judoka or Karateka wouldn’t stand a chance. 

The promoters set the rules for 3 five minute rounds, Savage was to wear a Gi top over his boxing attire, and Gene LeBell was not to wear gloves or shoes. All techniques were allowed except for kicks, and a referee stoppage or a 10 count would decide the winner or the referee if it went to decision. 

Pre-fight controversy regarding the equipment included a Gi that was too tight from Savage and the usual suspects of tampered or loaded gloves, but the fight went ahead as planned. Gene Lebell had negotiated for the fight to take place wearing Judo Gi jackets, much to his advantage.

But as the bout started it became apparant that Milo had potentially applied grease or some form of lotion to make the gripping process more difficult. And a back and forth battle ensued. 

Eventually, Gene got the bout to the mat and choked Milo Savage out in the fourth round in front of his home crowd, causing them to launch rubbish in his direction. Also, the crowd was unfamiliar with submissions and had figured that Gene could have irreparably harmed Milo. 

Milo recovered to a disappointed fanbase and “Judo” Gene went on to celebrate his historic victory that has become now MMA folklore. 
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